Referring back to a post I wrote some weeks ago (Following your heart – of parents and children), today’s text is about my mother-in-law – certainly no blood relation of mine, but most definitely a constant presence in my heart!
The first time we met I was very nervous. I was seriously in love with her son – at the time I think I was more in love with him than he was with me, stupid man – and I wanted to make a good impression on the mother he spoke of with such evident warmth. So I wore my best (and too tight) pants in deep burgundy velvet (yes, yes, this was a long time ago). Unfortunately, when I sat down in the sofa the inner seam burst apart… Talk about breaking the ice; my prospective mother-in-law laughed until she cried, and then I sat in nothing but my panties as she mended my lovely velvet pants. Let’s just say we never had any problem with intimacy after that little incident.
Mother-in-laws are often demonised – especially if they’re the mother of the husband. They meddle, they insist their son sets them first, they out-cook and out-bake their new daughter-in-law, they … long list. Okay, so my husband acquires a dreamy look when he mentions his mother’s meatloaf or her piece de resistance, a cake so complicated to make I have never even tried, but as his mother always compliments MY cooking, always groans happily over MY cakes, I don’t really mind. Actually, I have always felt she has been on my side, a person I can always turn to, no matter what.
That doesn’t mean we haven’t quarreled – of course we have, but we do so safe in the knowledge that we love each other, so we can afford to fall out as we will make it up, if not today tomorrow.
Life, sadly, is finite. My dear mother-in-law is getting close to its end, her body failing while her mind remains as sharp as ever. Not that she seems to mind – or worry overmuch about what will happen next. It’s like watching a clock slow; movements become more measured, more tentative, words take longer to form and sometimes the hand forgets it raising a cup of coffee to the mouth, stopping midway. But ask her what she thinks of the political situation in Turkey and she is sure to have an opinion, discuss the book she is reading and you are treated to a succinct review – although these days she can’t be bothered to finish the books she doesn’t get hooked on. “Too little time,” she says.
This weekend is her 94th birthday. As a treat for us we are having her visit us in our new country house. She’s never been there before, and it feels important that she sets foot in it, somehow indirectly leaves an imprint of herself there, so that we can say – years from now – “remember when Gran was here?”. Her having been there will create a sense of continuity, a link backwards to other people we love but who are no longer around, like my father-in-law. It is testament to how loved she is that all our children as a matter of course rearrange their schedules to be there, all of them wanting to be at the house when she visits. It is testament to how much she loves us that she is willing to take a round trip of four hours just to spend some hours with us.
In my mother-in-law I’ve found a second mother, an older woman with whom I’ve had the honour to bond. An uncomplicated relationship, an affair of mutual respect and devotion, full of so much laughter and joy. She taught me to knit, making huge eyes at my rather uneven efforts. She decided we should do crochet instead (“it’s easier”) and she had to hide her smile behind her hand when I proudly presented her with a rather uneven oven-mitt. She decided early on not to attempt any advanced sewing, but taught me to hem passably (although I prefer using the stapler; quicker and so much easier). Most of all, she was there when I needed her, a hand on my hair, a lap to rest my head in.
Chances are she won’t be around for much longer. I will miss her dreadfully when she is gone – but I am blessed in having had the opportunity to know her. I know she loves me – I hope she knows just how much I love her!